Woman in Business: Natasja Leijser
She used to be a lawyer, but found a new challenge in her father’s company. Her high heels were a sight to be seen. Being thought of as ‘the boss’s daughter’ didn’t make it any easier. Natasja Leijser (38) dug her heels in.
Her job as a lawyer with a legal firm in the middle of the Netherlands no longer interested her. She liked advising business people, but disliked conducting proceedings. She told her mother this one morning, who then said that the secretary had just quit her job. Natasja suddenly blurted out that she would fill in. ‘I’d said it before I really knew what was happening’, she laughs. ‘A few days later my father brought it up again. And after we talked about it a few times, I was convinced’. Eco Ketelservice Verhuur was established by Jos Leijser in 1983. The company specialises in the rental and sales of steam boilers to industry. The team, which now consists of about 20 staff members, found itself getting a new co-worker: the boss’s daughter.
‘This role made me fairly vulnerable,’ said the Manager of Internal Operations. ‘I got some strange looks from people in the industry, and at fairs, some people in the business would come to catch a glimpse of the daughter and her high heels. Seriously, sometimes I felt like a monkey in the zoo. For my part, I had no need whatsoever to prove myself; I wanted to make my own way with my own identity. My parents never pressured me to join the company either. They believed there was more to life than being a blind follower. After secondary school I studied Dutch law and specialised in international law. Being a lawyer seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, and it was good fun for a while. But it didn’t give me any long-term satisfaction. Without promising anything, I took a look round my father’s company. After all, I could always go back’.
Joining the business wasn’t exactly a breeze for Natasja. Some staff members were not necessarily used to having a woman working with them. ‘My disadvantage is not being a techie, but luckily, we have plenty in the shop’, according to Leijser who focuses on the commercial side and is mainly involved with marketing and human resources and rental and sales processes. Organising events for customers along with a colleague, evaluating legal documents and conducting interviews are some of the other tasks she likes to take on. ‘At this stage everybody is completely used to me. I managed that by marching to my own beat and standing up for myself. Now, a few years later, I can’t imagine a better place to work’.
When it comes to choosing an inviting career, the legal profession and the steam trade are just about polar opposites. The fact remains that the industry is largely populated by old, grey men. Some young blood wouldn’t do any harm, according to the businesswoman who sits on the board of Young Managers of Central Brabant [Jong Management Midden Brabant] and is secretary of the trade association Steam Platform. ‘Of our 100 members, only two of whom are women, almost everyone but me is 45 or over’, she sighs. ‘We can do better. The industry needs the talent of young people and women. Steam should become sexy’. Leijser’s presence in the industry is a good start at any rate. With her lively, feminine personality, she mans her post with brio, in a company that in all likelihood she will take over one day. ‘For now I’m just enjoying working with my father every day’, she replies enthusiastically. ‘I can learn so much from him. And we really complement each other perfectly’.
Their relationship has changed considerably over the past few years. While they used to be ‘just’ father and daughter, they’ve turned out to be good sparring partners too. ‘What a gift’, smiles Natasja, who for a long time saw him mainly as a caring and hard-working father. ‘I’m getting to know a totally different side of him. That makes our relationship feel rich. We are both fanatics when it comes to work, but he is the technician and I am more the lawyer. And I also put my feminine qualities to good use, which doesn’t go unappreciated. I’m more likely to show my concern for staff and ask about their families, for example. My father wouldn’t do that as easily. So my social side comes in handy here. I really enjoy that’.
‘It’s nice to be able to break the ice and make people feel good’, she goes on candidly. ‘They give me something in return too. The other day one of the staff gave me the Mars bar his wife had put in his lunch box. That was special. At that moment I realised that the driving force behind all these men was their women. I’m glad to be a woman too, even if it we don’t always have an easy time of it’.